Huddersfield’s Australian ace, Lionel Cooper outpaces Australia’s Pat McMahon at a packed Fartown Stadium

Yorkshire glamour side, Huddersfield belted Australia 22-3 in the first match of the tour of Britain and France, with sections of the crowd of 26,053 at Fartown, booing the Kangaroos as they conceded four second half tries.

It was a disastrous start for the Australians, with second rower, Fred De Belin suffering a fractured right leg, while lock, Bill Tyquin finished with a chipped left elbow.

Huddersfield’s Irish prop, John Daly

Huddersfield’s bald Welsh hooker, Mel Meek (nicknamed ‘not-so’) angered the Australians with the way he obstructed the tunnel when halfbacks were feeding the scrum. The referee did nothing, so the Australians realised they had to adapt, or suffer the consequences for the rest of the tour.

Meek, who had represented Monmouthshire in rugby union, had switched to league in 1934, signing with Halifax. His long experience was too much for his Australian rival, Kevin Schubert, from Wollongong, who turned 21 on the day of the match. 

The Sydney Morning Herald’s Tom Goodman wrote that the outstanding features of the Kangaroos’ play were a series of glorious flying tackles by young fullback, Clive Churchill; an attractive display by five eighth, Wally O’Connell and the crash-tackling of centre, Colin Maxwell.

Albert Rosenfeld, a member of the pioneering 1908 Kangaroos, said the Australians’ tackling was the best he had seen in years. Rosenfeld, who played for Huddersfield, Wakefield Trinity and then Bradford Northern, remained in England after the 1908 tour. He died in Huddersfield in 1970, aged 85.

Australian winger, Pat McMahon had trouble containing Huddersfield’s Australian star, Lionel Cooper, who had scored eight tries just a few days earlier against Yorkshire Amateurs. Another Aussie in the Huddersfield line-up – Johnny Hunter – twice stepped his rival, Johnny Graves. Ultimately Hunter was carried off on a stretcher after a high tackle by a frustrated Graves. McMahon’s handling was superb, and he always ran with purpose, so he lost few fans, despite his problems with Cooper.

Huddersfield led only 2-0 at halftime, in what was a fast and furious opening 40 minutes. It was the club’s seventh win in nine matches against the Kangaroos since 1908.

The 1948-49 Kangaroos

The Courier-Mail’s Jack Reardon wrote that he had faith in the Australians, and the first half was a more accurate reflection on their ability, with their lack of field practice a telling factor in the second, after five weeks at sea, on board the Maloja. Huddersfield had already played nine games in the English championship.

Huddersfield included two former Irish rugby union Internationals, Paddy Reid and John Daly. Daly, who was born at Cobh in County Cork, and played for London Irish and Harlequins. Reid was a product of the Garryowen club, in Limerick. The Huddersfield side also included Hawick (Scotland) rugby union recruit, Dave Valentine, who would go on to captain Great Britain to victory in the inaugural Rugby League World Cup, in France, in 1954.

The match against the Kangaroos started at 5.30 p.m., to allow factory workers to attend.

The Australians’ display receive mixed reviews in the British press. The Sunday Express described their performance as ‘disgraceful’, saying Huddersfield had given them a lesson in the finer arts of the game.

“A young team of giants employed violent tactics, which were quite unnecessary,” The Express correspondent wrote about the Kangaroos.

‘The News of the World’ described the Kangaroos’ tackling as ‘magnificent’, while George Duckworth (Sunday Empire News) wrote that it was bad policy to pit the visitors against one of the finest sides in League, so soon. 

The Australians had their first taste of the English style of club play when they attended matches at Halifax and Bradford in the lead-up to the Huddersfield clash. The Kangaroos’ training sessions, at Ilkley in the Wharfe Valley, attracted plenty of on-lookers, one of them captain of the 1936 British Lions in Australia, Jim Brough. Former Australian forward, Arthur Clues, who was playing with Leeds, was recruited as an advisor at training.

The tourists were subject to food rations, the same as the English population, with austerity measures in place, following World War II. The Australians denied one newspaper report which claimed they had asked for special food privileges.

Sydney’s Radio 2GB covered every match on tour, with the caller former Test referee, Tom McMahon.

Footnote: On the five week trip to the UK, via Marseilles, the Australians played the Royal Australian Navy in a deck cricket final, and had resounding win, with Doug McRitchie taking five wickets with six deliveries.

In the Great Australian Bight, the Maloja – a ship modified after World War II to take migrants to Australia – encountered 35-foot waves. The Australians had played a South Australian selection in Adelaide, winning 96-5, with Bob Dimond and Bobby Lulham each scoring five tries. The Australians had hoped to play Western Australia at Perth’s Subiaco Oval, but the match was cancelled because of sailing times. WA official, Gordon Squires, said a crowd of 10,000 had been anticipated, as, unlike Adelaide, there were many former New South Welshmen and Queenslanders living in the West. Squires came from Brisbane originally.

Kangaroo tourist, Jack Horrigan had many passengers scratching their heads, and looking left and right, as he was a master of animal noises, imitating everything from cows to chooks.

The players gave themselves nicknames in the trip over, along with their fellow passengers.

Journalist, J K Sharp wrote that one Indian passenger, “who would hold his own with Sydney’s best ear bashers”, was given the nickname ‘Mastoids’.

“To a bright young lady who comes into the category of ‘headache’, belongs the name ‘Bex'”, wrote Sharp. “And a heavyweight lady bound for Denmark, is always referred to as ‘The Great Dane’.

They were less politically correct times, and people didn’t take themselves as seriously as now.

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